About Ubisoft and EA's 'Always Online' PC Games Requirement

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HAL 9000

You actually can't play most places, geographically speaking. Forget camping trips, in cabins or campers, during overland vehicle trips or overseas travel by boat or plane. Anywhere the internet isn't--and that's still a majority of the planet--your game disc and install files will remain inert lines of code on a magnetic spindle.

But we tend not to sit for hours on end in spots like the Sahara, Siberia, the middle of the ocean, either of the poles, or the Australian Outback. What about all the urban areas that do have affordable internet?

According to an August 2009 Nielsen Online report, 74 percent of the United States population has internet access. That Ubisoft and EA's new policies would discriminate against a quarter of the populace notwithstanding, you can't sneeze at 228 million people, even if only about 70 million of those, according to a June 2009 Leichtman Research Group report, connect at speeds we'd call "broadband."

Trouble is, the internet remains an immature, inherently inconsistent service, irrespective of how many people have residential plans or which ISP they've signed with. Ubisoft and EA's latest games may require a "permanent internet connection," but the truth is, no such connection actually exists.

I've had the opportunity to use--both in a traveling and residential capacity--ISP services spanning multiple continents. And, for various reasons--business and vacation trips, wonky wireless drivers and router incompatibilities, random brownouts/blackouts, significant ISP downtime during residential moves, spotty service at airports and coffee shops--I've spent substantial amounts of time offline.

Last year, for instance, I was caught between non-overlapping ISP plans during a move. Without internet access, I couldn't access Valve's Steam digital distribution gaming service on my desktop PC because I'd elected--as a "best practices" security measure--not to store my sign-in credentials locally. Without them, Steam won't let you play installed games until you've reconnected to the internet. Let's call my reaction "nonplussed," you know, as a euphemism for "ready to chuck my computer out the window in handfuls after machine-gunning it down to Lego-sized bits."

Yes, the internet's generally there when you need it (or at least it is for some 228 million US internet users, to say nothing of potential gamers in countries with radically lower numbers--what about them, Ubisoft/EA?). And yes, for some of you this all may sound like a squall in a teacup.

But for me, it's as simple as Stardock's 'Gamer Bill of Rights' (links to PDF). Among its stipulations, one reads "Gamers shall have the right to play single player games without having to have an Internet connection." More importantly, another reads "Gamers shall have the right to not be treated as potential criminals by developers or publishers." Stardock's rationale is simple. They're not trying to be altruistic or overly generous. Those two points aren't tantamount to special gifts or privileges. No, Stardock simply listened to its customers, customers who overwhelmingly said "Please don't do this."

Ubisoft and EA haven't listened to their customers. Their plan to thwart online piracy burns off the bathwater and shackles the baby. Their cynical "permanent internet connection" policy for single-player PC games makes me feel like the criminal I've never been.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: If you can't figure out how to sell single-player games without affording customers the right to dictate the local experience--a right they're plainly demanding--maybe it's time to find another line of work.

We won't miss you.

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